“It is a poor sermon that gives no offense; that neither makes the hearer displeased with himself nor with the preacher.” – George Whitefield (1714-1770)
A preacher’s search for a new church home following retirement is often an exercise in sin, a prolonged, prideful discontent with the state of the churches one visits.
George Whitefield seems to have spent his whole ministry offending and displeasing, although the huge crowds he drew outside the church walls lead me question how offensive or displeasing his sermons were.
Perhaps the photograph of this heralded Anglican priest, “the Father of the Great Awakening,” and this PBS documentary description of him illuminate why the preacher who offended and made his hearers displeased with themselves drew the crowds.
“Slender, cross-eyed and handsome, George Whitefield was an Anglican priest and powerful orator with charismatic appeal.”
While others were reading their sermons from prepared manuscripts, George knew that good preaching is different from a public reading at the book store. He memorized his sermons or spoke extemporaneously with gestures considered too dramatic by the more stoic New England preachers. But one suspect there may have been something more to his success. Perhaps his eyes communicated a real human being, someone unable to hide behind being merely slender or handsome, a man whom frail and vulnerable human beings didn’t mind hearing an honest word that offended and or made them displeased with their own posturing games of pretense.
In honor of George Whitefield, a recently retired pretentious Presbyterian preacher worshiped at a nearby Episcopal Church. The word from the pulpit was deliciously real. He didn’t commit the preacher’s sin. He’s going back next Sunday.